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Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences

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In this perceptive and provocative look at everything from computer software that requires faster processors and more support staff to antibiotics that breed resistant strains of bacteria, Edward Tenner offers a virtual encyclopedia of what he calls "revenge effects"--the unintended consequences of the mechanical, chemical, biological, and medical forms of ingenuity that h In this perceptive and provocative look at everything from computer software that requires faster processors and more support staff to antibiotics that breed resistant strains of bacteria, Edward Tenner offers a virtual encyclopedia of what he calls "revenge effects"--the unintended consequences of the mechanical, chemical, biological, and medical forms of ingenuity that have been hallmarks of the progressive, improvement-obsessed modern age. Tenner shows why our confidence in technological solutions may be misplaced, and explores ways in which we can better survive in a world where despite technology's advances--and often because of them--"reality is always gaining on us."  For anyone hoping to understand the ways in which society and technology interact, Why Things Bite Back is indispensable reading.  "A bracing critique of technological determinism in both its utopian and dystopian forms...No one who wants to think clearly about our high-tech future can afford to ignore this book."--Jackson Lears, Wilson Quarterly


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In this perceptive and provocative look at everything from computer software that requires faster processors and more support staff to antibiotics that breed resistant strains of bacteria, Edward Tenner offers a virtual encyclopedia of what he calls "revenge effects"--the unintended consequences of the mechanical, chemical, biological, and medical forms of ingenuity that h In this perceptive and provocative look at everything from computer software that requires faster processors and more support staff to antibiotics that breed resistant strains of bacteria, Edward Tenner offers a virtual encyclopedia of what he calls "revenge effects"--the unintended consequences of the mechanical, chemical, biological, and medical forms of ingenuity that have been hallmarks of the progressive, improvement-obsessed modern age. Tenner shows why our confidence in technological solutions may be misplaced, and explores ways in which we can better survive in a world where despite technology's advances--and often because of them--"reality is always gaining on us."  For anyone hoping to understand the ways in which society and technology interact, Why Things Bite Back is indispensable reading.  "A bracing critique of technological determinism in both its utopian and dystopian forms...No one who wants to think clearly about our high-tech future can afford to ignore this book."--Jackson Lears, Wilson Quarterly

30 review for Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences

  1. 5 out of 5

    Mero

    Edward Tenner's book is rather dated by now (1997!), but in everything but its discussion of software and the internet it still seems relevant. It is an informative collection of instances in which new technologies, upon their adoption, have been found to result in unintended consequences. Consequences which happen to have undermined the very reasons for having pursued the new tools. Tenner cites cases across five broad areas: office efficiency and safety, medicine, environmental resource manage Edward Tenner's book is rather dated by now (1997!), but in everything but its discussion of software and the internet it still seems relevant. It is an informative collection of instances in which new technologies, upon their adoption, have been found to result in unintended consequences. Consequences which happen to have undermined the very reasons for having pursued the new tools. Tenner cites cases across five broad areas: office efficiency and safety, medicine, environmental resource management, animal, plant, and pest introductions into ecosystems, and sports technology. Some of the cases have become common knowledge by now, such as how forest fire management tends to increase the intensity of fires or how antibiotic soaps can create incredibly dangerous and unstoppable diseases. There are scores of well known cases of revenge effects like these listed in Tenner's book. A few that I found to be interesting: *Beach jetties, which are installed to limit beach erosion, tend to massively increase the erosion of all of the surrounding beaches. *Office technology implemented for the purposes of increasing efficiency and paring down employee costs usually results in having to hire teams of expensive specialists and technicians to maintain the new hardware or software. It also tends to disrupt the work that people should be doing by introducing a plethora of new minor tasks that have to be individually nursed. For example, the replacement of secretaries with fast communication, sorting, and planning tools saved money on wages, but it required the hiring of programmers, system administrators, and other (higher wage) employees. It also forced managers and professionally trained individuals to devote a much larger part of their day on the tasks that secretaries once handled. *In sports, new equipment that increases the safety of a sport tends to allow the game to be played much rougher before people get hurt - which ultimately makes accidents far more deadly when they happen. * Almost all of the carp in the United States were introduced through a program that promoted carp as a tasty, sustainable and cheap food source. This proved not to be the case (they were not tasty) and then the carp got into US rivers and lakes and destroyed most of the ecosystem that supported the natural fishstock and waterfowl, ultimately reducing foodstocks. Tenner does a terrible job of being explicit about any sort of over-arching take away from this book but there are a few themes that can be picked out across the chapters: 1) Technology tends to displace or lessen the impact of discrete problems and replace them with chronic ailments that have to be constantly nursed. This effect is, interestingly, credited with creating the feeling amongst the general public that life getting continually worse despite the fact that by most objective measures people live longer, healthier, more affluent, better lives than they once did. 2)That what is underestimated in nearly every aspect of technological improvment are the damping effects that come from the environment's response to the new technology. 3) That "intensification" of a technology almost always results in a revenge effect (such as increasing the safety, speed, or size of a thing without thinking about how those factors might change how it is used.) These themes, however, are anything but explicit in Tenner's book. He mentions them in the first and last chapters, but the rest of the book reads like a recitation of interesting research findings with no particular clear ordering or framework to tie them together. Tenner's bibliography, however, is impressive and contains a very good list of works for readers actually interested in frameworks that explain how technology and culture interact. Why Things Bite Back ultimately never addresses the question posed by the book's title in any satisfying way. Instead it appears that Tenner has consulted with the literature of others who have grappled with this question and merely repeated the interesting evidence used in justifying their theories, but not the theories themselves. Why do these revenge effects matter and why do they happen? Tenner is silent on this matter and offers no good or coherent explanatory framework, which is a shame considering the title suggests one will be offered.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Leo Walsh

    You know the old saw. "The best laid plans of mice and man soon fall asunder.""Why Things Bite Back" a real fun exposition of clever humans doing clever things which backfire. Tenner discusses subjects near and dear to my heart -- like how computers, created to simplify rote secretarial work and thus save organizations money by eliminating support staff, but instead leads to the need to hire higher-priced IT talent. And he also discusses things I've learned about in different contexts, like the You know the old saw. "The best laid plans of mice and man soon fall asunder.""Why Things Bite Back" a real fun exposition of clever humans doing clever things which backfire. Tenner discusses subjects near and dear to my heart -- like how computers, created to simplify rote secretarial work and thus save organizations money by eliminating support staff, but instead leads to the need to hire higher-priced IT talent. And he also discusses things I've learned about in different contexts, like the higher chimneys of coal-burning plants making the immediate area's air more breathable, but sullying air remote to the plants. You know. Blow-back. Tenner goes on to discuss things I wasn't aware of. Like how America's ill-tasting carp, the bane of fisherfolk flike myself, were actually imported and farmed by American farmers as a cheap, easy-to-raise, tasty food fish. And the history of plant importations that backfire... like kudzu for food which has, in turn, begun devouring the southeast. Or how eucalyptus trees, imported to California en masse for timber ended up not only producing unusable lumber due to the conditions in the American south west, but actually increase the fire hazards due to their volatile oils. The downside of this book is that it is a catalog with very few analytic pegs to hang one's hat on. But the individual incidents are quite amusing. What I really appreciate is that Tenner is neither a "doom and gloomer" nor a Pollyanna chirping "technology will save us all." Instead, he ends by indicating that, by and large, human cleverness has improved our lives, and odds are will continue to do so. Lives should continue to become safer, more convenient and our use of materials more efficient. But we will always end up producing effects no one could ever foresee. This book is a bit old, but did not feel dated to me (except when discussing computer operating systems -- Windows 95 -- and hardware, of course, or making casual references to the Twin Towers). But the core still applies, and always will. I'd recommend reading this in conjunction with Duncan Watts's more contemporary "Everything is Obvious (Once You Know the Answer)" which explores similar ground, but instead focuses on how we often finger point to the clever "culprits," accusing them of creating the blow-back. Overall enjoyable, light and yet fascinating science read. Part history, part technology, it should be on any engineers or technophile's shelf. Just as a reminder of that "mice and men" bit. Which turns out to be quite relevant.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Marshall

    This is a book about the "revenge effects" of technology. In technology there are trade-offs (gain a certain benefit at the cost of something else) and side-effects (a trade-off that has impacts other than what was intended). Revenge effects are when you try to solve a problem using a technology and that technology ends up just making the problem even worse. Some examples: antibiotics fight diseases while simultaneously strengthening the microbes that cause disease. Titanic, the ship that was so This is a book about the "revenge effects" of technology. In technology there are trade-offs (gain a certain benefit at the cost of something else) and side-effects (a trade-off that has impacts other than what was intended). Revenge effects are when you try to solve a problem using a technology and that technology ends up just making the problem even worse. Some examples: antibiotics fight diseases while simultaneously strengthening the microbes that cause disease. Titanic, the ship that was so unsinkable that it led to over-confidence that ended up sinking it. A lot of what this book talks about is supposed to be revenge-effects, but are actually trade-offs. For example, much of what it discusses is the increased vigilance so many technologies require, and yet technology is supposed to free us from toil. Except that the examples this book gives aren't of technologies that are designed to free us from toil, but to improve our lives in other ways. Like all the health technologies, remembering dosages, maintaining sophisticated equipment, training doctors, etc. The point is to alleviate suffering, not toil. In fact, this book is packed with so much data noise that I kept forgetting the point he was trying to make. There's way too much research here. It kept feeling like he discovered things that weren't relevant for this book, but he thought they were interesting so he squeezed it in there anyway. I kept tuning out, like I was sitting in some boring lecture. I think the subject matter is interesting though. Technology is often thought of in terms of solutions to problems, not in ways that they create new problems. Not all change is progress, and sometimes I feel like I'm the only one who knows this. People are so enamored with their damn gadgets. This book is not at all anti-technology, or pessimistic about its potential to improve our lives. Usually, it's extremely optimistic. But the best way to get the most out of our technologies and our innovation is to think through all the potential effects these technologies might have, and that's really what this book encourages.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Dennis Littrell

    A reminder that life is always two steps forward and one step back In medicine we conquered (to some extent) the catastrophic only to succumb to the chronic. This is an example of what Tenner means by things biting back. My house has very good water pressure. I can put a lot of water on the lawn in a hurry. Unfortunately, the pressure is so great that the water hose cannot be set down on the lawn with the water on since it will jump and squirm and shoot about until something anchors it. The other A reminder that life is always two steps forward and one step back In medicine we conquered (to some extent) the catastrophic only to succumb to the chronic. This is an example of what Tenner means by things biting back. My house has very good water pressure. I can put a lot of water on the lawn in a hurry. Unfortunately, the pressure is so great that the water hose cannot be set down on the lawn with the water on since it will jump and squirm and shoot about until something anchors it. The other morning at five a.m. one of the hoses to the washer burst spraying gallons of hot water against the wall and onto the floor. I was experiencing "the revenge of unintended consequences." There's a certain "Peter Principle" logic to Tenner's thesis. It seems that we have the ability to devise technological wonders but the inability to completely account for everything they can and will do. The computer brought us not only incredibly rapid calculations and a greatly enhanced ability to write, as well as the Internet, but also carpal tunnel syndrome. Who could have predicted that? We thought we were heralding in the paperless society when in fact the use of paper increased. The expanding speed and availability of global transportation has lead to the rapid proliferation of disease and unwanted alien species. We could and probably did predict that. Tenner covers a lot of ground in this very interesting book, from medicine and natural disasters to plant and animal pests to machinery and software to how better running shoes lead to more injuries. In short what we have here is a warning: we are not as smart as we think we are. We are not as completely in control of our lives as we would like to believe. We are in danger of really screwing up the works at any time, so we ought to be modest and, as Tenner suggests, practice a constant vigilance because "reality is indeed gaining on us." --Dennis Littrell, author of “The World Is Not as We Think It Is”

  5. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    This was a really intriguing read, regardless of how dated it can feel since it talks about technology as it was in the late 90s...and a lot has happened since then! Despite this, the concept of "revenge effects" is a helpful schema, especially when contrasting its definition with side effects, rearranging effects, repeating effects, recomplicating effects, regenerating effects, and recongesting effects. He goes on to describe examples of all of these in a wide range of fields - medicine, the en This was a really intriguing read, regardless of how dated it can feel since it talks about technology as it was in the late 90s...and a lot has happened since then! Despite this, the concept of "revenge effects" is a helpful schema, especially when contrasting its definition with side effects, rearranging effects, repeating effects, recomplicating effects, regenerating effects, and recongesting effects. He goes on to describe examples of all of these in a wide range of fields - medicine, the environment, biology, technology, and sport - and illustrating how and why the different effects have occurred. What was particularly interesting about reading this in 2020 is how well known some of these things are now (the suppression of forest fires leading to more devastating burns, the overuse of antibiotics creating resistant bacteria, the introduction of a pest control then becoming a pest, labor-saving technology leading to more chronic types of pain), while others remain less discussed and more hidden (football helmets creating a more dangerous game, productivity tools leaving productivity stagnant, the improvement of medicine leading to deaths that wouldn't have occurred otherwise). The contrast says a lot about the society we live in. Also interesting was how many of the effects seem more prominent now than at the time of the book's publication, as well as imagining how many more revenge effects must have occurred since! (I certainly think that Tenner would define "fake news" as a revenge effect of social media.) Worth reading for the definitions alone, and as a jumping off point for reflecting on the choices we make in society and the consequences of those in our world.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Pietro Condello

    The concept of unintended consequences is fascinating because it affects so much of modern life: natural resources, technology, politics, healthcare. Revenge effects are ideas or technologies that are devised to solve a particular problem, but end up either making it worse, or create additional problems in their wake. Although Tenner's concepts on technology are a bit dated given he wrote the book in 1996, the rest is still quite relevant. Sudden, acute catastrophic hazards that were once discrete The concept of unintended consequences is fascinating because it affects so much of modern life: natural resources, technology, politics, healthcare. Revenge effects are ideas or technologies that are devised to solve a particular problem, but end up either making it worse, or create additional problems in their wake. Although Tenner's concepts on technology are a bit dated given he wrote the book in 1996, the rest is still quite relevant. Sudden, acute catastrophic hazards that were once discrete and localized (eg: train crashes and shipwrecks) have been exchanged with gradual dispersed, accumulative chronic hazards (everything from network security to climate change) that affect a much greater number of people and require constant attention and maintenance (rearranging effect). Some examples: - New technologies that induce behaviour that cancels out the very reason for using it - Pesticides help certain pests flourish by eliminating their natural predators - Antibiotics that naturally select for strains of bacteria that are more resilient and resistant - Automotive safety measures that increase accident rates - Safety regulations in sports that induce more violent play - How certain sunscreens that block UVB (that causes tanning/burning) can induce behaviour that increases rates of melanoma (which is why sunscreen manufacturers are careful not to claim cancer prevention) - How seawalls behind high tideline and groynes (walls of stone perpendicular to shorelines) can actually promote beach erosion

  7. 5 out of 5

    Bryan Whitehead

    Really this book should have been called “How Things Bite Back,” inasmuch as it was really long on the history and awfully short on the explanation. I’m also not sure I follow some of Tenner’s definition of “revenge effect.” For example, I can understand how over-medication’s production of super-germs could be considered a revenge effect of technology, but I’m not quite so clear on how “revenge” comes into play when the cures for diseases that commonly kill young people increase the incidence of Really this book should have been called “How Things Bite Back,” inasmuch as it was really long on the history and awfully short on the explanation. I’m also not sure I follow some of Tenner’s definition of “revenge effect.” For example, I can understand how over-medication’s production of super-germs could be considered a revenge effect of technology, but I’m not quite so clear on how “revenge” comes into play when the cures for diseases that commonly kill young people increase the incidence of diseases common in old age. If a long life (even with eventual deterioration) is a revenge effect, then please take vengeance on me. The book features some interesting anecdotes, but as a whole it falls short of expectations.

  8. 5 out of 5

    John

    This was more of a descriptive catalog and less prescriptive than I’d hoped. I was already painfully aware of the problems, and was hoping for approaches to avoid and mitigate the hurt that I am bound to inflict in my life as an engineer.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Rebekah Theilen

    This ended up being more of a skimmer for me. There was nothing wrong with the book, but after awhile I began to lose interest in all the different ways he was saying “Technology has done some amazing things for us, but it also comes with consequences”.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    Tenner's _Why Tings Bite Back_ is now a quarter century old. While many books that address present concerns in technology age quickly, becoming quaintly outdated, his consideration of technology revenge effects remains fresh and compelling. Tenner's _Why Tings Bite Back_ is now a quarter century old. While many books that address present concerns in technology age quickly, becoming quaintly outdated, his consideration of technology revenge effects remains fresh and compelling.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Peter Tillman

    Started well, then got political. I quit then. DNF.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Janice Sheufelt

    20 years old, but probably even more relevant than ever. As in a more recent book, Pandora's Lab, all "progress" and technological advancement has a cost. 20 years old, but probably even more relevant than ever. As in a more recent book, Pandora's Lab, all "progress" and technological advancement has a cost.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Darryl Updegrove

    some parts better than others.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    great abook about the unintendedd consequnces of technology. Read before 2000

  15. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    Typo, page 231: “Questions that begin with seatpans and backrests, forward and backward tilts, micro-switch clicks and wrist supports turn out to be have answers that are psychological, organizational, and even political.”

  16. 4 out of 5

    Ushan

    This is a study of technology gone bad - a pastiche of Robert Sheckley's "Watchbird", Murphy's Law and those ancient Greek stories about gods punishing mortals for their hubris. Better emergency medicine in the second half of the 20th century meant that wounded soldiers or civilian accident victims, who would have died before, now survive for decades permanently disabled, physically or mentally, and require either paid caretakers or family members to care for them. Antibiotics cause antibiotic-r This is a study of technology gone bad - a pastiche of Robert Sheckley's "Watchbird", Murphy's Law and those ancient Greek stories about gods punishing mortals for their hubris. Better emergency medicine in the second half of the 20th century meant that wounded soldiers or civilian accident victims, who would have died before, now survive for decades permanently disabled, physically or mentally, and require either paid caretakers or family members to care for them. Antibiotics cause antibiotic-resistant germs to appear, and pesticides - pesticide-resistant pests. Bigger hard drives and larger RAM beget operating systems and applications with features of questionable utility that fill them all. Sports safety equipment such as hi-tech climbing gear causes athletes to take more risks; preventing acute traumas, it lulls them into thinking that nothing is dangerous, and allows small injuries to accumulate, which have a cumulative impact that is just as bad. It was thought that automobility would save people time, while in fact if you add up the time spent sitting in traffic and earning the money to buy and maintain the car, the driver could just as well ride a bicycle. And so on; Tenner cites many examples from sports, medicine, ecology, computers and other fields where technology has had unintended consequences that are comparable to, if not worse than the problem it was meant to solve. He argues that "finesse" instead of "brute force" should be the main principle of technology. All this has been told many times before Tenner; technophobic thought goes all the way to Plato, who argued in some dialogue that writing ruined memorization, if not earlier. Yet I had the impression that a larger picture eludes him. Not all personal computing power gained in the last 30 years went into animating cute icons; Pentium-based PCs can play DVDs, which 80386-based PCs were not powerful enough to do. The fact that the Green Revolution averted mass starvation predicted by people like Paul Ehrlich shows that some solutions are preferable to their absence. And "finesse" is quite in line with many examples of contemporary technology: magnetic locks on refrigerators, which solved the problem of children locking themselves in abandoned refrigerators and suffocating, is an elegant example. I once took a software safety class; the professor told us that if her friends in the nuclear power industry had their way, they would have installed automatic alarms and pumps with autonomous power sources in all refrigerators. Yet even nuclear power plant designs nowadays have passive safety features.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Rosie

    Quality of the writing: 4 Quality of the content/organisation/research: 4 Impact on my perspective: 2 Personal resonance: 4 Rereading potential: 3 Overall score: 3.5 The reason I read it: Researching technology, also wanted some new input on unintended consequences. Review: This book, written in the late 1990s, is a compendium of what the author calls 'revenge effects' - instances of technology which turns against its users, producing negative consequences that can override its benefits. The more we try Quality of the writing: 4 Quality of the content/organisation/research: 4 Impact on my perspective: 2 Personal resonance: 4 Rereading potential: 3 Overall score: 3.5 The reason I read it: Researching technology, also wanted some new input on unintended consequences. Review: This book, written in the late 1990s, is a compendium of what the author calls 'revenge effects' - instances of technology which turns against its users, producing negative consequences that can override its benefits. The more we try to control the world, the more things bite back. Examples include the greater ease of typing on computers leading to carpal tunnel, antibiotic resistance, and vacuum cleaners throwing dust pellets in the air where they remain for days. Revenge effects are the result of technology interacting as part of a system, allowing effects to multiply.  Tenner's concept of revenge effects is a useful one and something I've seen everywhere since reading about it. This book is well-researched and well-written, but it loses points in two areas. First, Tenner never ties it all together into an overarching theory or explains how we can resolve things. The reader is left to figure out their own conclusions - something I'm not averse to in general, it just feels like this book could have done more with its thesis. Second, it includes what seems like every possible example of revenge effects and could have done with some tighter editing. At a certain point, the lists of examples get repetitive. Considering this book is as old as me, many of the examples are now dated but I won't blame the author for that. If anything, the fact it's still relevant is impressive. Interesting tidbits: -Air conditioning on subways increases the temperature on the platforms. -Improved household appliances have not reduced the time we spend on housework because hygiene standards have improved.  Disasters often make us safer in the long run. -The proportion of treatable major illnesses has increased from 1 in 10 to 1 in 2 since the start of the twentieth century.  -In 1833, France imported 42 million leeches for bloodletting. I checked and the population was probably under 36 million at the time. That's a lot of leeches. Throughout history, infectious diseases have been the main causes of death on the battlefield. -Athletes in Ancient Greece and Rome were famed based on stories of their wins, not on measurements of their performance. They didn't have a concept of athletic records.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Yuichiro

    This book challenges its readers to rethink the assumptions we place in our technological world. There are many examples given in the book, but there is one I thought that was quite interesting. There has been a study done with physicians and level of patient care. There are initiatives coming from both government and private sectors to create much documentation concerning patient information. The assumption is that the providers can give better diagnosis and create less errors with more informa This book challenges its readers to rethink the assumptions we place in our technological world. There are many examples given in the book, but there is one I thought that was quite interesting. There has been a study done with physicians and level of patient care. There are initiatives coming from both government and private sectors to create much documentation concerning patient information. The assumption is that the providers can give better diagnosis and create less errors with more information on the patients being treated. Allergy and Medication list as well as comprehensive medical history record are some of the examples. However, there was a study created that proved exactly the opposite. It is true too little information can lead to mistakes and bad diagnoisis, but too much information seem to have silimar effect. Being in medical information technology business, I thought this was quite interesting. This book is a pretty good and quick read and I recommend it to all, but especially to people working in the technology sector, as it may give fresh and different perspective. My comment may give notion that this is an anti-technology book, but it is not. It questions some of the assumptions we all take for truth. Questioning assumptions and truth is a good thing. Sometimes it is the key to changing the world.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Dominick

    Interesting. Tenner's thesis is that "revenge effects" often (if not always) accompany innovation: no matter what it is, any new way of doing things will have not only unintended consequences but often ones that specifically counter the very achievement being aimed for--e.g. the so-called "paperless office" actually leading to more paper use, or better antibiotics leading to more virulent bugs--are the revenge effects. The book is formidably researched. Tenner covers a lot of ground, from things Interesting. Tenner's thesis is that "revenge effects" often (if not always) accompany innovation: no matter what it is, any new way of doing things will have not only unintended consequences but often ones that specifically counter the very achievement being aimed for--e.g. the so-called "paperless office" actually leading to more paper use, or better antibiotics leading to more virulent bugs--are the revenge effects. The book is formidably researched. Tenner covers a lot of ground, from things like information technology through species diversification, even developments in sports technology that lead to more risky, aggressive play and therefore to potentially worse injuries. His style is quite accessible, occasionally even witty, so despite its academic-ish subject, his is a fairly easy book to read. A weakness is that at times it feels like Tenner is merely enumerating examples of the revenge effect rather than engaging in much in the way of analysis. That approach does show the ubiquity of the revenge effect, but it doesn't help much in understanding it. indeed, it makes it seem at times as if such outcomes are merely the inevitable outcome of literally any change, which seems a rather trivial point to be arguing. Nevertheless, this book is a goldmine of interesting and surprising information about how our efforts to improve our lot tend to backfire--or at least stutter.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    Though I expected this book would take a deterministic stance (based on how it is marketed? when it was written? I'm frankly not sure), I was pleasantly surprised by how Tenner's account instead provides a lucid historical trajectory of the many technological changes that characterize the 20th century. He aims to demonstrate that such change -- though often understood as a type of teleological progress -- is often, equally, negative. Coining the term revenge effects, Tenner describes the uninten Though I expected this book would take a deterministic stance (based on how it is marketed? when it was written? I'm frankly not sure), I was pleasantly surprised by how Tenner's account instead provides a lucid historical trajectory of the many technological changes that characterize the 20th century. He aims to demonstrate that such change -- though often understood as a type of teleological progress -- is often, equally, negative. Coining the term revenge effects, Tenner describes the unintended consequences of technological advancements as varied as seat belts on aircrafts to automatic crop planters. Though many of the stories he tells are familiar ones, his perspective draws attention to historical preconceptions and ideas that are often forgotten over time. Both well-researched and well-written, this is a book that benefits from the academic rigor behind it without being marred by jargon or theory that would make it inaccessible for a more popular audience.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Tracey

    Continuing with my interest in human factors and technology, I checked this out from the library. Tenner discusses the "revenge effect" - where improvements in technology cause related problems - such as building seawalls to protect beachfront property causing the property on the edges of the seawall to erode even more quickly. He looks at these effects in terms of medicine (antibiotic resistant bacteria), the environment (kudzu and killer bees), the computerization of the workplace (carpal tunn Continuing with my interest in human factors and technology, I checked this out from the library. Tenner discusses the "revenge effect" - where improvements in technology cause related problems - such as building seawalls to protect beachfront property causing the property on the edges of the seawall to erode even more quickly. He looks at these effects in terms of medicine (antibiotic resistant bacteria), the environment (kudzu and killer bees), the computerization of the workplace (carpal tunnel syndrome), and even the sporting world (football helmets). Nearly 100 pages are dedicated to further reading, footnotes and an index - the book is very well researched, and still quite readable without being too dry. Recommended for anyone interested in exploring the intersection of human nature and technological developments.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Thorn

    the story so far... i'm enjoying this book a great deal. the 'history of science-and-technology'-thing is sooo my schtick. i've owned this book for a number of years; high time i got around to reading it. the book itself is a bit other-than-expected, in that it does read like a bit like an academic monograph. it is more readable than the average one of those, though. so far it appears to center on an author-generated construct. but it's an interesting construct that is anchored in reality; and i a the story so far... i'm enjoying this book a great deal. the 'history of science-and-technology'-thing is sooo my schtick. i've owned this book for a number of years; high time i got around to reading it. the book itself is a bit other-than-expected, in that it does read like a bit like an academic monograph. it is more readable than the average one of those, though. so far it appears to center on an author-generated construct. but it's an interesting construct that is anchored in reality; and i am willing to suspend my disbelief for a bit to see where tenner is going with his argument. so far it feels like it can be summarized with something i always say about software upgrades: "what one hand giveth, the other taketh away." but the examples he uses are interesting and fun, and tenner's sense of humor comes across in the book. so far. stay tuned.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Miska

    This is a book that must be read to the end. The beginning and most of the book goes to excruciating detail about various things and convinces one of revenge and other effects. But only in the quite last chapter where conclusions are drawn do we get a peek at possible solutions. The details are sometimes quite surprising and even entertaining. How can a well-intentioned action turn into a truly bad result and how can it happen all the time all over the world? These are questions the book shows a This is a book that must be read to the end. The beginning and most of the book goes to excruciating detail about various things and convinces one of revenge and other effects. But only in the quite last chapter where conclusions are drawn do we get a peek at possible solutions. The details are sometimes quite surprising and even entertaining. How can a well-intentioned action turn into a truly bad result and how can it happen all the time all over the world? These are questions the book shows and tries to answer. The problem is intensification and answer is softening the approaches used. Because of the statistical nature of the examples, everybody is important, yet nobody alone can do much. This book was a fight to read and now that it is over, I'm happy. I did create a dozen or so notes out of it, which shows that there is direct value for me.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    Why Things Bite Back is about the revenge effects of technology. When you try to improve life with technology, there are certain trade offs. For example, although antibiotics have reduced deaths caused by common bacteria, it has actually created many superbugs that have become immune to them. Antibiotics have inadvertently made bacteria more deadly to all humans. However, Tenner's book lacks organization. He goes from one topic area such as pests to another such as sports, pointing out all the in Why Things Bite Back is about the revenge effects of technology. When you try to improve life with technology, there are certain trade offs. For example, although antibiotics have reduced deaths caused by common bacteria, it has actually created many superbugs that have become immune to them. Antibiotics have inadvertently made bacteria more deadly to all humans. However, Tenner's book lacks organization. He goes from one topic area such as pests to another such as sports, pointing out all the instances where technology has caused revenge effects. It felt like reading a research paper where the author rambles on and on about every single example of a revenge effect. Although the ideas were interesting, there could have been better execution.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Nathan

    Why Things Bite Back really is a study of "unintended consequences". Tenner illustrates how modern inventions and human achievements have had negative, unforeseen side-effects that often take on a hefty dose of irony in their context. Anti-biotics, for example, that result in new generations of anti-biotic resistant bacteria. I'm pretty sure Stephen King already turned this concept into a horror novel, yet as is often the case, reality is a little scarier. Good luck if you're reading this on an Why Things Bite Back really is a study of "unintended consequences". Tenner illustrates how modern inventions and human achievements have had negative, unforeseen side-effects that often take on a hefty dose of irony in their context. Anti-biotics, for example, that result in new generations of anti-biotic resistant bacteria. I'm pretty sure Stephen King already turned this concept into a horror novel, yet as is often the case, reality is a little scarier. Good luck if you're reading this on an I-Book. NC

  26. 4 out of 5

    ReImagine Science

    Science and technological endeavors are the source of many improvements to human survival and ability - yet the risk of unintended consequences will always be present (think of asbestos, or thalidomide). Avoiding unpredictable and dangerous consequences is not likely unless we all become Luddites. Quick response, transparent communication, and the fast development of effective remediation is the key - all of which are facilitated by collaboration, removal of barriers to communication, and a sens Science and technological endeavors are the source of many improvements to human survival and ability - yet the risk of unintended consequences will always be present (think of asbestos, or thalidomide). Avoiding unpredictable and dangerous consequences is not likely unless we all become Luddites. Quick response, transparent communication, and the fast development of effective remediation is the key - all of which are facilitated by collaboration, removal of barriers to communication, and a sense of having time enough to work at the highest levels of complexity

  27. 5 out of 5

    Mark Terry

    Details the "revenge effect" of many technologies in which the effect is opposite that intended. For instance, light cigarettes intend to reduce risk, but increase risk because the tendency is to smoke more of them to get the same nicotine - producing more exposure to other hazardous chemicals. There were many good examples of unintended consequences. Ultimately though, I found it a good thesis in which there were many examples that were stretched to fit. Details the "revenge effect" of many technologies in which the effect is opposite that intended. For instance, light cigarettes intend to reduce risk, but increase risk because the tendency is to smoke more of them to get the same nicotine - producing more exposure to other hazardous chemicals. There were many good examples of unintended consequences. Ultimately though, I found it a good thesis in which there were many examples that were stretched to fit.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    This book is written by someone who fears technology. As a tech-loving scientist this book made me angry BUT I must say that despite the unfairly biased descriptions of tragedy and failures I did leave this book sobered by the impact one can have from a few oversights. The cheapshots in this book were just that cheap but the shots themselves hit home. A boring and grueling read that is a must for budding scientists.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Harvey

    - from the jacket: "From football padding that actually makes football more dangerous...to 'low tar' cigarettes that compel smokers to smoke more, from antibiotics that breed new, resistant strains of bacteria..." "If computers really eliminate paperwork, why is the office recycling bin always overflowing?" - from the New York Times: "A layman's compendium of the perverse consequences of technology...lively, and provocative reading." - from the jacket: "From football padding that actually makes football more dangerous...to 'low tar' cigarettes that compel smokers to smoke more, from antibiotics that breed new, resistant strains of bacteria..." "If computers really eliminate paperwork, why is the office recycling bin always overflowing?" - from the New York Times: "A layman's compendium of the perverse consequences of technology...lively, and provocative reading."

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy

    This book starts with an interesting idea and then proceeds to dig its own grave with way too much research (stained glass and zebra mussels were never more obtusely rendered) and long winded, dull prose. Tenner has his heart in the right place, but god only knows where his writing is at. Other people have articulated these ideas in far more intelligible and interesting ways. Best avoided.

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